Employee motivation...what really makes your people tick-

Employee motivation…what really makes your people tick?


Have you ever asked yourself what really motivates your employees? Do you struggle to get to grips with employee motivation?

Have you ever asked yourself what really motivates you?

Neither of them are simple questions to answer.

But if the success of your business relies in any way on the quality of the interactions between the people within the business, then it’s worth taking time out to think about these things.

(It does.)

So if you’re interested in how you can broaden your knowledge and open your mind to the things which will motivate and mobilise the people in your teams and in your organisation to actually achieve success for themselves and for your company, then this blog post was written for you.

After all, understanding employee motivation on an individual level, i.e. the deep and hidden drivers which cause someone to act the way they do, is nothing less than essential for getting the most out of your employees from day one.

The fact of the matter is that motivated employees are happy people. Happy people do good work. Good work leads to positive outcomes and positive outcomes are what you as a manager must strive for, for you and your team.

Why focus on motivation?

Let’s face it.

As managers, we need to understand the people for whom we are responsible for in order to allow them to create the greatest contribution to the success of our organisation.

By ‘understand’, I do not simply mean that we have to know their professional background, their family status and the things that they enjoy doing at the weekend.

No, if you want to be able to excel at managing people, you’ll have to develop strong empathy and a deeper understanding of what actually drives their behaviour and what kind of conditions they need as individuals in order to be able to thrive.

“It is crucial that organisations understand what engages and motivates their workforce and plan their strategy accordingly. Engagement isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach – different personalities and generations are motivated in different ways.” – Annabel Jones, HR Director at ADP UK

Let’s face it: whether you are recruiting for a new position, or looking for a powerful way to develop existing employees, or searching internally for potential future leaders for your succession planning program, your aim must be to put the right people with the right drives into roles where they can use their natural motivators in order to achieve success.

When you are able to tap into what really makes people tick and then create the environment that allows them to realise the potential that they have, then you see real results and real growth in the person’s ability and confidence to succeed.

With confident and engaged employees you’ll have a real advantage in the market place too, research by Dale Carnegie Training shows that companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 22 per cent.

What happens when we fail to understand employee motivation?

As a people manager I have no doubt you’ve experienced a situation, whether in your current company in a previous company, that involved staff or team members who were suffering from a lack of motivation and low morale.

You’ve seen the damage that can be done by interpersonal conflict and friction caused by a lack of awareness of oneself and of other people.

You may also have experienced what happens when you forget to provide an employee with the things that they need to feel motivated and satisfied.

Put simply, they leave.

Now, it’s worth remembering that most people don’t  tend to leave an organisation as such. They leave the manager and they leave the conditions that the manager has created for them within that organisation.

That’s because, as people, we are all driven to grow. Were all driven to achieve our own potential. We may not know what potential is there at any given moment, but there is always a growth process happening within us, as human beings.

One of the reasons why we leave jobs which we feel have no future, or are providing us with no opportunity to grow, or where we are simply treated in a way which we know deep inside is not good for us or conducive to our own growth…

One of the reasons for this is because we feel we are not stretching ourselves and being allowed to become who we really are in our role.

This phenomena is often called existential guilt and, if prolonged, can cause immense stress, heartache, anxiety, depression, fatigue and burnout in anyone, no matter what kind of person they are.

The good news from managers is that we, as the people responsible for the success of our teams in our organisations and for the people within those entities, can make a great and vital contribution to improving their environment and to creating the right environment and conditions for personal and professional growth within an organisation.

Why do we find it hard to grasp individual motivation?

One of the primary reasons why people managers fail to really grasp what motivates their people, deep down, is a lack of self-awareness.

That’s right.

In most cases, when you’re faced with a team that is low in morale and is disengaged from the work, it’s worth discovering whether or not the manager of that team has a true and authentic awareness of the impact of their behaviour upon the people.

In these cases, the answer is usually a resounding no.

When we simply act, on a day-to-day level, giving little thought or attention to our own behaviour, we tend to alienate other people. We focus on the day-to-day running of the business and the operational and financial aspects of the business, in the hope that this will accelerate us towards our goals.

… But in doing so, we forget that we, as managers and leaders, are partly responsible for the success of our teams and of our people and we must accept that responsibility fully.

Having an awareness of the way that people perceive you and observing yourself and how you interact with other people and the consequences of those interactions, is an invaluable activity for anybody who wants to manage and lead other people.

So valuable, in fact, that in a survey amongst the members of the Stanford University advisory board, self-awareness was named as the most important skill for leaders to develop!

Knowing yourself and having a clear understanding of what you need to feel motivated, satisfied and fulfilled at work, is the first step in being able to understand what motivates other people.

On the flipside of this, when managers fail to know the impact of their own behaviour, it causes an atmosphere of distrust and the relationships between the team members become strained.

In extreme cases, employees may feel so strongly that a manager is acting with complete disregard for their feelings, needs and motivations that they actually resign from their position, despite the potential negative consequences.

What a shame, that a lack of awareness for our own behaviour can lead to such a potentially traumatic experience for another person.

Treat others as they need to be treated

Of course, it’s not simply the absence of awareness which leads to friction between managers and team members. It’s the actions which follow the lack of awareness.

In my experience, the core of this issue lies with the fact that most people believe that what motivates them ought to motivate other people.

In this way, we treat our staff, our team members and our employees as we would like to be treated… And herein lies the problem.

Because we are not all motivated by the same things.

We do not all have the same motivational needs as each other.

And we do not all like to be treated in the same way.

I mean, imagine.

Imagine if you treated the CEO of your organisation in the same way as you treated your grandmother.

Of course, this would be absurd!

Because you know that you have to adapt yourself, to accommodate and get along with your CEO, in a very different way than you would have to adapt yourself to accommodate your grandmother.

And it’s the same with your employees.

If you want to get the best out of people who work for you and you want to create an environment in which they can contribute to the success of your organisation in their own way, then you must learn to adapt your natural management or leadership style to the situation and more specifically, to the person.

Now many of you may not agree that a manager needs to adapt to their employees.

You may believe that an authoritative leadership style is always the best way to go.

But no man is an island and as a manager you will know your success ultimately lies in the success of your people and when you know the ingredients, the individual ingredients that lead to individual success, then why wouldn’t you add them to the pot in order to create the best possible recipe for performance?

Employee motivation...How to motivate staff?

How do you boost employee motivation?

The simple truth is that you, as a manager, cannot motivate anybody. Motivation comes from inside of us, which means that we can only ever motivate ourselves.

But here’s the thing.

Managers and business owners can directly contribute to creating the right conditions, in the right working environment and the right job criteria for the individual… Thus ensuring that they meet the motivational needs of their people and allow them flourish in their own way.

We may not be able to directly motivate our staff, but there is a heck of a lot that we can do to facilitate the right conditions for growth and fulfilment.

It all starts by accepting certain things about the way that people are motivated on an individual level:

  1. No one does anything until and unless he or she is first motivated to do it
  2. Each one of us can only be motivated by our own perceived needs
  3. Your perception of needs cannot motivate me and my perception of needs cannot motivate you
  4. Only your needs motivate you and only my needs motivate me

What we mean by perceived needs, is the things that you believe you need in order to feel motivated, satisfied and fulfilled. They may not be the things that I believe you need, but they are your needs in your world and they are important to you.

Now the tricky thing with employee motivation on an individual level is that you cannot see it.

You cannot observe the inner drives and motivational needs of another person.

For they are always hidden way below the surface.

What you can observe is the behaviour of a person. You can ask questions, you can listen and you can develop an awareness of yourself so that you understand and gain awareness of other people.

Of course, the problem with evaluating other people according to their behaviour, is that behaviour is very fluid and can be adapted, change, or altered in any second.

And that’s why is extremely valuable to gain an insight into the things that motivate the behaviour that you see in your employees and your candidates or in your colleagues.

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So what motivates my employees then?

It’s important to remember that there is a difference between universal human motivational needs (as pinpointed by Maslow) and individual motivating needs.

We all have basic human needs that need to be met for us to live happy lives, such as shelter, nutrition, a feeling of affiliation with others, significance and a sense of contribution.

But we also have very specific and individual needs that need to be met for us to feel motivated and satisfied with the work that we do.

So if you’re having trouble understanding what your employees need from you in order to increase employee motivation and increase their satisfaction at work, then here are eight powerful motivators that you might want to consider:

Encouragement and confirmation

Not all of your employees are go-getters who want to get to the top.

Many of them will be unconcerned with ambition and achievement and will be far more motivated by having an understanding manager who gives them encouragement, reassurance and recognises their strength of teamwork.

These kinds of people prefer to think about “our agenda” rather than “my agenda”.

People like this enjoy working as a harmonious team and have a selfless approach to collaboration. If you recognise this in any of your employees then be sure to provide them with plenty of support and guiding feedback, whilst maintaining a harmonious working environment.

Independence and autonomy

If you have ambitious self-starters amongst your ranks, then you need to know that these kinds of people are highly motivated by having independence and freedom from authority and need to be able to go their own way and make their own decisions.

It’s no good hiring an energetic “doer” and then putting them in a role where they have no responsibility or authority to change things!

What motivates in this case, is to have control of their own work and be given opportunities to prove themselves and their own ideas.These people have a great understanding of the big picture and when given a chance to provide their own solutions or ideas, they really begin to thrive and excel.

When you know that one of your employees enjoys responsibility and independence, it’s a good idea to release the reins a little bit and allow them to develop their own ideas and strategies off their own back. This gives them energy, motivation and a strong sense of ownership.

Time alone to reflect

It’s no secret that the Western business culture is very much an extroverted culture. Constant communication, endless meetings and constant interaction with other people is at the core of the western business environment.

For many people, especially those on the more introverted side of the scale, this constant contact with other people can become very tiring. It’s important to recognise when your employees need time alone to reflect and it’s even more important to give it to them.

For those who have a preference for introversion, it’s essential that they are given the opportunity for introspection in the workplace and allowed time alone to be able to process problems ideas and changes that are taking place around them.

That’s because the constant barrage of communication and interpersonal contact can quickly drain these kinds of people.

That means, that if you want to get the best out of them, you allow them the time alone to be able to recharge and regain energy. This way, they’ll feel far more motivated and energised.

Employee motivation...How to motivate staff?

Social interaction

Human connection is one of the base motivators for us all. After all, no man is an island.

But for some people social interaction can be one of the most powerful drivers of satisfaction.

Whereas introverts may become drained from constant social stimulus, those on the extroverted side of the spectrum become highly energised by opportunities to network and connect with other people.

When given the chance, they are often able to motivate others and get people on board, because of their desire to interact and their desire to gain consensus from their peers.

Often, these types of people need to be in regular communication with those around them and enjoy meeting new people, as they are often able to connect to them very, very quickly.

It’s important to remember, that with employees like this, you have to provide plenty of opportunity for interaction with other people and not lock them away in a room on their own!

They love people and they thrive most in their interactions with others.

Variety and change

If there is one constant in the 21st-century business world, it is change. And for some people, this is an essential element that keeps them motivated.

When you have employees that enjoy variety and change within their roles, it’s important to make sure that you give them this variety.

This means being free from having to do repetitive work and being free from having a routine which forces them to do the same thing day in day out.

Experiencing new things, meeting new people and learning by experiencing new opportunities, are all-powerful motivators for people who thrive on change.

You can bet your bottom dollar that having to remain in the same place, in the same job, in the same situation for a prolonged period of time, is guaranteed to deplete this person’s energy and feeling of satisfaction.

Stability and predictability

Whereas some people thrive on variety within the role, there are others who rely on stability and a sense of predictability in order to feel happy and satisfied with the work that they do.

These kinds of people need a stable work environment with a supportive team and are best kept away from roles that include ever-changing priorities, ever-changing strategies and the requirement for rapid adaptation to changing conditions.

Although it may be difficult in a business climate like the one that we have today, you must be able to give this person the feeling that they are valued and that they are looked after by the company.

This supportive environment will have a direct impact on the feeling of motivation and job satisfaction and will amplify their desire for long-term affiliation to your organisation.

Freedom from rules and regulations

Truly creative people can often only unleash their creativity and innovative ideas, when they feel they are not being ‘dampened down’ by the rule book.

Now, although rules and regulations are central to any industry and any organisation, we must appreciate that we need to give these creative people freedom of expression, which often means allowing them freedom from rigid structure and “how it should be done.”

When we bring these kinds of people into our businesses, we need to give them an outlet for their creativity and freedom to make exceptions and take a flexible approach to their work.

Although they may not always heed tradition, or even the accepted norms of the company, they are able to contribute powerfully with new ideas, innovative solutions and strategies which other, more ‘rigid’ employees may not have been able to see.

Guidelines and structure

For many managers and business owners, it’s hard to comprehend that guidelines, structure and rigid frameworks would be a key motivator for some employees.

But it’s true.

Many of your employees have a strong drive to achieve greater certainty in their role and thrive from being able to understand exactly what is expected of them and are driven to know the rules that they are supposed to abide by.

Having this clear framework, provides certainty and understanding of what they are and are not allowed to do.

When you have people in your organisation that are motivated by having structure, it’s really important that you provide them, not only with the framework, but with the training, knowledge and the follow-up support that they need, to become a specialist in their specific role.

These kinds of people are far more motivated to understand the how rather than the why and by accumulating knowledge, they can better protect themselves and your company from risk.

When faced with these kinds of people, it’s vital that you understand that there are often ‘perfectionists’ who find criticism very difficult to deal with and who can be very hard on themselves should they make a mistake.

Developing motivated employees in practice

The things that I’ve talked about above are essential for any people manager to understand. What’s even more essential is that we act on this knowledge as well as we can, on a day-to-day basis.

Of course, it’s not that easy to constantly take other people’s needs and motivators into account, especially when you’re trying hard to fulfil your own needs.

It takes great awareness to give each of your employees what they need to thrive and you won’t always get it right.

But if you are the type of manager who wants to improve your ability to energise, motivate and mobilise your teams more effectively, then it’s a good idea to observe and listen on a deeper level to your people.

Try to develop an awareness of your own frame of reference and your own behavioural preferences, so that you can more objectively observe those of other people.

The essence to understanding what makes your employees tick, is the development of self-awareness and the ability to create an atmosphere of trust, empathy and respect with your employees.

In that way they will open up to you more easily and you’ll have to use guesswork and objective observations far less, in order to be able to understand what they really need to succeed in their roles.

Knowing exactly what makes your employees tick is no easy task. Developing empathy, awareness and deep listening skills, however, will put you well ahead of the pack.

Question: Are you already developing self-awareness in your managers to improve leadership and engagement? If you are, which areas of your organisation have benefited most?

Please share your experience in the comments section – we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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